This year, Blossom wrote history by enlisting foreigners in the Undergraduate Student Council and creating the Bureau of International Relations. This is the first time in Korean history that a university student council has accepted foreigners. Yernazar Kairat was chosen as the leader of the Bureau of International Affairs. The KAIST Herald sat down with Yernazar for an interview.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a sophomore studying electrical engineering, and I am from Kazakhstan. This is my fourth semester at KAIST. I am a member of both the KAIST International Students’ Association (KISA), the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and most recently, the Bureau of International Relations.
How was the Bureau of International Affairs started? How did you come to join?
Last fall, Blossom was elected as the 28th Undergraduate Student Council, and in December, Yoseop Kim (the vice president of the council) decided to create a group within the student council dedicated to international students. He then posted a recruiting announcement on KISA’s Facebook page, and I signed up. They ended up choosing me as the leader of the new group, which came to be called the Bureau of International Affairs. Other members of Blossom have been very supportive of me despite the language and cultural barriers.
I joined because I wanted to experience what it is like to join the student council and also make Korean friends in the council. In high school, I was involved in student government as well, and I personally enjoy this type of work. I was also already a member of both KISA and MSA, and felt that I could represent the two clubs well in the council.
What is the ultimate goal of the Bureau of International Affairs?
Our ultimate vision is to create an integrated student body at KAIST. Currently, there is very little interaction between international students and Korean students. I believe that KAIST and its students can greatly benefit from more diversity and integration. I simply think that more diversity leads to more creativity.
There are many clubs and groups that are seeking to help international students and get them involved, but their efforts are largely isolated and somewhat ineffective because of a lack of support from others. We want to help with those efforts by using our authority as student council members.
What are its current goals and projects?
Currently, our biggest goal is to enact the policy of having all international students pay the 15,000 Korean Won student council fee that all Korean students have already been paying each semester. One of the reasons that previous student councils have largely ignored international students is because we did not pay that fee, giving them a reason not to work for us. However, if international students start paying that fee, we can have a voice in the student council and have the student council help us as well.
We are also working to make KISA a part of the Undergraduate Student Council. KISA is currently under the jurisdiction of the Graduate Student Association, but most of KISA’s members are undergraduate students. We have been discussing this with both KISA and the International Scholars and Students Services (ISSS) team, and they are both supportive of the idea.
Finally, we are also trying to bring Halal food into KAIST’s cafeterias. Many international students, especially Muslim students, have trouble eating at KAIST’s cafeterias because of their vegetarian diet. This forces them to either eat off campus or cook their own meals. Bringing in Halal food would make it much easier for those students to take care of their meals.
What difficulties did you face during your time working at the Bureau of International Affairs?
A few comes to mind. For one, I did not get to choose who to work with, and adjusting to different styles and personalities took some effort. Moreover, even though they are very supportive, the language barrier still exists inside the student council, and we sometimes face difficulties while working with other members of the council. This is in addition to the cultural barriers that we are working to break down between international and Korean students. The workload required by my position was also higher than expected.
How do you think KAIST can become more integrated?
I think that full integration and diversity will require more than just financial support from the school for events and clubs. There needs to be more awareness of diversity. It would be a great help if Korean students could learn about international students’ very diverse backgrounds and cultures. KAIST should also make more connections with foreign universities through research and exchange programs to attract more foreigners.